Israeli Economist Proposes Mandating Paternity Leave to Close Gender Gaps

The proposal calls for giving new parents a combined 24 weeks of paid parental leave, up from a current 15

ILLUSTRATION: A new father with his young baby
Dan Keinan

New fathers would be required to take two weeks of paternity leave, under a proposal drafted by economics professor and former MK Manuel Trajtenberg.

The report was drafted in partnership with researcher Ron Leyzer on behalf of the Samuel Neaman Institute for National Policy Research at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, as part of a project on drafting new economic policy.

The proposal calls for giving new parents a combined 24 weeks of paid parental leave, up from a current 15. It would also permit granting an extra two weeks of paid leave should the father want to take four to seven weeks leave.

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It does not propose significantly lengthening paid leave for women beyond the 15 weeks now allotted.

Currently, a father is entitled to take leave at the expense of his wife’s leave, but is under no obligation to do so. Fewer than one percent of Israeli fathers take any parental leave.

In comparison, countries such as Denmark, Norway, Canada, Portugal and Germany require or encourage men to take parental leave. Within the OECD, around 15% of men take leave.

Paid maternity leave for women in Israel is among the shortest in the OECD, and the policy is both archaic and responsible for salary gaps between men and women, according to Trajtenberg’s report.

Trajtenberg warned against lengthening parental leave only for women, because this will “increase inequality and discrimination in the workforce.” Rather, men need to be pushed to take parental leave in order to improve employment norms, he said.

“The great paradox is that the public discourse attributes lengthening parental leave as an attempt to improve things for women, but thus we’re actually harming them, and this is what international research says, too,” Trajtenberg told TheMarker. Israel’s parental leave mechanism creates discrimination against women and hurts their advancement in the work force relative to men, who are under no obligation to take leave when their partner has a baby.

Instead, Israel needs to create symmetry between mothers and fathers, he says. “Only if the employer knows that there’s an equal chance that both men and women will take parental leave can we get over this discrimination,” he said. “Currently, the longer the leave that women take, the greater the chances that their careers will take a hit. It may be that the inequality in parental leave proactively harms their workplace advancement, as employers prefer to advance men, who aren’t likely to take leave.”

He also proposes changing the terminology - the term in Hebrew translates as “birth vacation;” Trajtenberg proposes referring to it as “birth and parenting period” instead, in keeping with the official term in national insurance documents. “This period shouldn’t be defined as a vacation. That’s very much not the case for parents caring for a newborn,” he says.

This measure would help limit the salary gaps between men and women, the proposal says; Israeli men earn 35% more than women. The proposal also forecasts that the GDP would gain some 80 billion shekels - or a seven percent rise - by increasing women’s salaries and enabling them to advance farther at work.

It would also improve the economic wellbeing of young families, who would save on childcare costs as well as in lost income - generally the woman’s - that comes with caring for a baby beyond the end of paid leave, Trajtenberg said.

The plan would cost the government some 1.4 billion shekels a year, which the researchers propose covering by doing away with national insurance payments for children after age 15 (currently parents receive a small stipend for children through 18) as well as cutting the payments to hospitals for postpartum women.

Not only does paternity leave close salary gaps between men and women, it also minimizes pay gaps between the husband and wife, the report says.

Israel is one of the few countries with such a high birthrate and female workforce participation rate. “This is an unusual case,” says Trajtenberg. In other countries with a female workforce participation rate on par with Israel’s, the birthrate is nearly half of what Israel’s is, he says.

This creates inequality between men and women in everything that has to do with childcare. The main impact is that men have better jobs than women, the report says For instance, some 32% of Israeli women work part time, compared to 13% of men; the OECD average is 25% of women working part time.